What is the Significance of Ophelia’s Madness?

Published: 2021-08-30 17:00:09
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Ophelia is extremely controlled by her father Polonius. Ophelia is obedient, listens well and doesn’t complain. Having a parent like this must be difficult for Ophelia, Polonius controls every part of her life including her love life. When Ophelia tells Polonius that she loves Hamlet he orders her to quit seeing Hamlet, she agrees, ‘I shall obey my Lord’ (145). Later, when Polonius uses her as bait to spy on Hamlet for King Claudius, she does exactly what she’s told. As long as she’s unmarried, she lives by her father’s rules. Of course, if she were to marry, she’d then have to live by her husband’s rules. Essentially, Ophelia has no control over her body, her relationships, or her choices, eventually, Ophelia snaps just like a lot of people who spend their lives obeying other people without having any personal thoughts or actions.
The problem with being completely obedient is that you can’t fight back when you really need to. Hamlet seems to know that Ophelia is helping her dad spy on him, and he accuses her and all women of being a ‘breeder of sinners’ and orders Ophelia to a nunnery basically a brothel. But she can’t call him on it, she’s a good girl and even though she wants to fight back, she can’t admit that she knows what it means or yell at Hamlet for even saying it. He keeps going, too. He says that if Ophelia were to marry, she’d turn her husband into a monster, or a cuckold because she would inevitably cheat on him; and then he follows up these sweet nothings with a little ‘I loved you not’ (129). Now Hamlet is half right about not wanting to marry Ophelia, now Ophelia wouldn’t cheat on Hamlet but how could he trust her when she stays so obedient to her father, lies to Hamlet and tells him that Polonius is home when he is concealed in the room eavesdropping. Hamlet lost trust to Ophelia when he gave her a love letter which she showed to Hamlet’s mother Gertrude and his uncle Claudius.
Throughout the whole play Ophelia is just defined by her sexuality. Hamlet seems to have a lot of opinions about the topic, even her brother Laertes has something to say about it, along with their father. Laertes tells Ophelia about the dangers of premarital sex for women, not men in attempts to scare Ophelia, Laertes takes an “Elizabethan” stance toward female sexuality a deflowered woman, which would mean that Ophelia is damaged goods that no man would want to marry. To Hamlet, she is a sexual object, a corrupt and deceitful lover, instead of a loyal wife that he could respect. Laertes tells Ophelia multiple times to fear intimacy with Hamlet and that intercourse is like a canker worm invading and injuring a delicate flower before its buds have had time to open. Laertes knows exactly what Hamlet wants from Ophelia and scaring her away from him could have saved her. In the play it is suggested a few times that Ophelia and Hamlet had sex, it’s not confirmed in the play at all that she actually had sex with Hamlet and a lot of other characters in the play seem to think she did, like her brother. Everybody in Ophelia’s life just assume how things are in her life which is another example of how she’s so controlled she cant even speak against not having sex with Hamlet.
In Ophelia’s mad scene she is giving away flowers like rue and wormwood which were used for centuries in abortion potions. Which also shows how she was actually deflowered, giving flowers away. Now since it’s not confirmed that had sex or not doesn’t matter that’s still a lot of pressure to put on a young woman, it’s too much for Ophelia. When she goes mad, she sings a song about a woman who is tricked into losing her virginity with a false promise of marriage. I think she sings this song because it’s the truth about her life, I think that Hamlet realized how obedient and easy Ophelia was for love. Hamlet must have saw this as an opportunity to take advantage of her. Ophelia couldn’t see what was going on, her father and brother believe that Hamlet would use her, that he would take her virginity and throw it away because she could never be his wife. Ophelia doesn’t believe them, convinced her that Hamlet loved her, though he swears he never did. Ophelia understood what Hamlet was doing to her she went basically crazy. Her heart was broken, she felt lied too, the stress of the situation and not knowing how to handle herself lead her to absolute madness as a result of patriarchal pressure and abuse.
In the end, it kills her. Rather than straight-up committing suicide like hanging herself, overdoses Ophelia drowns. Gertrude seems to think that she accidentally falls in the water and then simply neglects to save herself from sinking. Ophelia’s garments pull her down. This is basically a metaphor for how Ophelia lives her life doing what her father and brother and boyfriend tell her to do, rather than making decisions for herself. Gertrude tints that Ophelia’s drowning was natural, Ophelia is described by Gertrude as being like a native creature in the water, Ophelia is described as being mermaid-like with her clothes spread wide. Even in death, Ophelia is shown as sexy, once again being sexually objectified by sex from her peers. Ophelia’s life was full of control and abuse. Everyone in Ophelia’s life used her and treated her like she was just an object. Being treated like that for your whole life, ever having any type of say was what killed her. Ophelia didn’t feel safe around the people she was supposed to trust, if Ophelia could just speak up about how she was feeling or what was going on she would still be alive and maybe be living a better life full of freedom and love.        

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